Jessie Henshaw  -  id at 

Jessie represented the MG NGO Commons Cluster in the UN in 2013&14, now an independent physicist and architect who developed a general natural science of systems ecology, with advanced research on physics principles and patterns of emergent organization in nature.

Her innovation produced a practical new general scientific method for studying transformations of natural system designs, leading to numerous important findings and proposed scientific use of C. Alexander's practice of holistic design using "pattern language".  One of her key findings is that most standard sustainability metrics used around the world were unscientifically defined. Inherited w/o study, they treat the impacts of businesses, cities or countries as "what is reported", so limited to the impacts seen **inside the reporting boundary the reports were coming from**. That of course omitted the impacts the *activities* inside the reporting boundary have on the rest of the world *outside* that reporting boundary. Her basic science for defining the measures correctly shows the impacts omitted are often much larger than those counted. The "Systems Energy Assessment" paper and ”World SDG" proposal provide strong new accounting standards for the direct economic consequences of our choices. It shows the true scale and range of impacts our choices have, and that it's the purposes we choose to serve not impacts of consumption that actually matter.   

Her subjects also include all kinds of lively complex systems such as organisms, ecologies, cultures, communities, languages, technologies, weather, etc. Such systems develop from an initial seed as a pattern of design, plus a process of development, forming a cell of organization by growth in an open environment. Jessie’s methods are based on using physics principles as diagnostic tools, addressing natural systems as forms of organization we observe to be working by their own designs, not only subject to external forces, the "problem" for physics, making the laws of physics boundary conditions for life and nature, not deterministic causes. So she does not use physics to represent environmental systems with equations, but to help investigate them, considered as self-defined individuals of the environment.   The method relies on collecting data on whole system behaviors with the most "fidelity" to the natural forms, permitting the most confirmable recognition of working parts and relationships.  It’s often not for making equations except to aid in identifying working designs of natural system individuals, treating equations to represent temporary patterns of natural design.   Comparing the two allows some useful historical reconstruction of the flows of internal innovation that occur during displayed growth system developments, and to sometimes anticipate the successions of other developments that are likely, or certain, in its future.

Jessie’s findings are published in a number of research papers, some under the pen name "P.F. Henshaw", restricted partly due to conflict with physics, recorded mainly in her archive of studies, proposals and comments contributed to institutional rule making bodies, responses to journal and news articles and in participating in online discussion.  She’s now living in New York City, having grown up in Hamilton NY and getting a 1968 B.S. in physics from St. Lawrence University, a 1974 MFA in architecture and environmental design from the Univ. of Pennsylvania, leading to her many years of independent research when then moving to Denver and making her first revolutionary findings when studying the natural micro-climates of homes.  She has since continued to accumulate her body of useful new work.

Research Archive –   Blog: Reading Nature’s Signals –  
Publication & Resources – Consulting Services –


To study natural systems one considers them as having developed from usually unnoticed beginnings, by building on the origin pattern of design that starts their development. So they appear to us as “found objects of design” in the environment, recognized by the organization of their parts, and by both how their organization is continually changing and operates within its self-defining organizational boundary.   The lasting rules they follow are very general, such as that their organization is invariably accumulative and built on what went before, by joining opposing shapes generally, and developing by a succession of "non-linear" organizational stages, first building up then building down.  We use our familiar experiences of life as metaphors or examples of these successions of natural design, "pregnancy" corresponding to the explosions of innovation beginning from a tiny seed pattern, and "maturity" as a long process of perfecting what pregnancy creates.   Other patterns of the same succession include how a business start-up always begins with a seed pattern and goes though a period of relatively dangerous radical innovation and development, to spend years refining the service, craft or product being produced.  It's a model that applies to almost any design of life that comes to matter to us, an invasive growth of some pattern in one environment, that then either finds or fails to find a stable set of roles in the discovered environment it grows into.

What makes it a particularly complex subject is the difference between discussing the "temporal processes" and the "spatial designs".  We see them so differently that they need to be discussed in different terms, but understood as connected all along too.    The timeline of natural designs is a story of accumulating innovations that may go back and forth between periods of increasingly radical innovation (the periods of compound growth) and periods of refinement and perfection, of the designs the radical innovations produced.   The familiar occurrence of that is the succession of "graduations" we experience in going through successive stages in learning, requiring alternating radical expansions in thinking and periods of (somewhat) perfecting it.    How the connections of new things build on the starting pattern that form those somewhat predictable successions are what one studies.  It leads to understanding how the working parts work, and are changing.   In general any rule one finds is likely to be temporary, because... it's 'life'.   

The most common reasons for systems to break their own rules is either 1) becoming connected or disconnected from others or 2) changing scale, either getting too big or too small for their prior way of working to work.   The "resilience" of excess duplication in working parts and surplus resources, that all systems need so they can maintain themselves despite unexpected shocks or limits of change, then works to maintain continuity when something has to change, assuming a bridge of new design or resources is found.  So, understanding that we can admire the seemingly magical processes of natural growth and decay and peer into what actually going on, and what the stakes are a bit.  


jlh 1/21/13, 4/9/16